The May 2017 issue of Choral Journal contains an article from Emily Guthe on the topic of choral students with disabilities. An excerpt of the article follows. You can read the rest in the May 2017 issue of Choral Journal here!
Note: This article originally appeared in Sounding Board, the publication of Iowa Choral Directors Association.
It’s Monday morning and the principal is at your classroom door with a student with a disability. The principal says she feels that your choir would be a perfect opportunity for this student to be in an inclusive environment. As you smile and nod, inside you might be saying to yourself, “I wonder if this really is a ‘perfect opportunity.’ Does my principal even know what it takes to function in a choir?”
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As a music therapist who has completed graduate studies in choral conducting, I have particular interest in the needs and abilities of students with disabilities within the choral ensemble. That interest motivated me to conduct a systematic study of the experiences of choral educators in middle and high school to better understand the challenges and practical strategies that they have used when including students with disabilities in their choirs.
Modeling. In music therapy settings, therapists often attempt to model appropriate social behavior and other responses for clients. This modeling exists in a choral setting as well. Music educators model the sound they want the choir to produce, the vowel shape they want the choir to have, the pronunciation of text, or appropriate social behaviors. Some types of disabilities result in more diffi culty attending to or realizing the most salient points of instruction. If that seems to be the case in your situation, you may want to use extra verbal or gestural cues or commands to help students with disabilities make maximum use of modeling.
Consistency in Rehearsal. The choral rehearsal process tends to be consistent on a daily basis. Some educators may display a rehearsal plan. This consistency in rehearsal provides a predictable environment for students. That predictable structure is especially important for students with autism and can help reduce potential anxiety. Educators interviewed stated that students with disabilities were often more successful in their classroom because of this structured and predictable environment. The structure can also help students without disabilities to know what to expect when they come into a choral classroom.
While the majority of choral directors who participated in my study focused on how nicely a good choral process can aid all students, they also shared with me some practical strategies they have used when accommodations were needed. Their input, along with my own experiences as a music therapist and choral director, are summarized in the following list of practical strategies. (Note: this is only an excerpt from the full list in the printed article.)
- Have patience with students. It is helpful to remember that difficulties in following instructions may be a function of the disabilities rather than a lack of desire to comply.
- Location! Location! Location! The placement of students in the ensemble will make or break their success. If they have behavioral issues, do not place them next to a student who will elicit those responses. If they have trouble following the musical score, place them next to a student who is a strong singer.
- Know that adaptations and accommodations you provide for one or two students can often benefit the entire classroom. Clear instruction tends to be helpful to all students.
- Utilize recording technology to assist students in learning their part. For example, one of your best choral students might record the relevant part (SATB) onto a tablet or smart phone for the student with learning difficulties to listen to between rehearsals.
Read the rest of this article in the May 2017 issue of Choral Journal here! (Go to “Search Archives” and choose May 2017 from the dropdown menu)
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